Pre-Order Bonus, or Pre-Destined Cash-Cow?

And here we are again.

Almost nine years ago, I wrote an article about the rise of DLC (DownLoadable Content), and about how it began with foolish cosmetic items- optional, but fun- and evolved into a slightly more streamlined version of the good old expansion packs you used to get. A nice, hefty chunk of new stuff at a reasonable price. It seemed like it might be the way forward for integrating new content, and an incredibly clever way of simplifying access and payment. I had high hopes.

Now, in these last twelve months my personal experience with new games and DLC has been dramatically soured, in the manner of finding an old gym sock in your Jam Roly-Poly, by the rise of the Pre-Order.

Clever, unscrupulous publishers have now cottoned on to a way to guarantee sales of a game before any bad press can damage launch figures, to generate hype for a game well before the final version sees the light of day. Through sustained attritional marketing campaigns that make the London Blitz seem like a shower of firecrackers, publishers now slap gamers around the face until, dazed and confused, they hand over their hard earned cash for a game they have no guarantee will end up anything like they expect.

Assassin's Creed Unity, Batman: Arkham Knight, Aliens Colonial Marines- the list could go on, but I won't bore you. All supposed triple A titles, all part of a massive pre-order hype, all horribly broken upon release. Lies told to our face, and we paid them in advance for it.

And now the trend continues. Two of the most recent culprits are Bethesda and Square Enix. Bethesda's showing off of Fallout 4 took the form of a Steve Jobs homage, the glorious faithful almost drooling with glee at the Pip-Boy Special Edition. Subsequently, it's sold out everywhere. They made more, and it sold out again. Yet Bethesda have an historical track record of releasing broken, buggy games on launch day, fixed by months of patches post release. Should we really be handing our money over early? Why shouldn't we wait until there is proof that what we spend will be worth it?

Square Enix ran two huge marketing campaigns for both Just Cause 3 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, whereby they requested fans to vote for three items from a wide range to be placed in the special edition. I guess there's no accounting for taste, because as it turns out the three most generic and uninspired items (another dust gathering statue?) made the cut in both campaigns. Astoundingly, the Deus Ex campaign shifted into second gear this week with a tiered pre-order system that increases the rewards available the more people pre-order. The final tier results in the game being released four days early.

Why? What's the point? If the game is ready by then, why hold on to it for four days? Is the money from the pre-orders being used to whip the staff into completing the game sooner? The whole thing is a PR stunt, and stinks of treating gamers to a gloved slap in the face, like a challenge to a duel we cannot win.

Except, and I know this may seem radical, we can. DON'T pre-order. Buy the game, sure, if you like it/want it- but wait until it's released. The stores won't run out. Think about it- do they ever run out, even of incredibly popular titles like Call of Duty, or Halo? No, they won't. They make a surplus, because they can gauge exactly how many people want it from social media, from online play statistics and from previous sales.

In Kickstarter, or IndieGoGo, or other crowdfunders, it is acceptable to take money before a finished product arrives- that's the whole concept. You are confident enough that the studio/band/artist can deliver on their pitch with the target funding, even though there is still the element of risk that it may all go wrong and you have nothing to show for it. But you accept that, it's the nature of that method of business. Triple A development from leading globe spanning developers and publishers should not conform to this format, it is insanity to force it to do so.

The only way this culture of taking our money before delivering a finished product will stop is if WE stop it, by sending a clear message to the publishers that smoke and mirrors are not enough.

Some links, for further perusal:

The original Deus Ex campaign: https://www.deusex.com/micro/vote

The second stage: https://www.deusex.com/

(Yes, it's Kotaku- but it's actually) A measured take from the retail side of things: http://kotaku.com/marketing-retailers-explain-those-stupid-pre-order-off...

Similar Opinion piece (slightly less wordy): http://kotaku.com/5909105/stop-preordering-video-games-please

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